5 tips to follow if you’re struggling in college

College students often get told that these are the best years of their lives. Chalk that one up to nostalgia! Every semester of college comes with its own unique struggles, whether it’s a social or academic challenge.

One of many signs you're struggling in college. (Credit: Quickmeme.com)

One of many signs you’re struggling in college. (Credit: Quickmeme.com)

The first semester of college may be the hardest transition, but there’s always the possibility of realizing that a class is too difficult, not getting along with a professor, having problems balancing a part-time job with academics, or having a family or social event impact your ability to cope with the rest of your college life. If you realize you’re struggling in college, what can you do to overcome challenges and achieve student success? Here are some tips on how to be a successful college student.

From struggling to succeeding

1. Recognize that you are struggling. Sometimes it’s hard to tell (before those midterm grades come back) that you’re falling behind. Brenda, a contributor to College-Pages, in “Characteristics of Struggling College Students,” posted August 17, 2011, made a note of some of the symptoms of struggling in college:

  • You spend a lot of time alone. This isn’t just because you like your alone timeit may be because you’re too proud to join a study group, because that would mean admitting needing help. Interacting with your fellow college students is necessary for student success. Peers and professors can help you overcome challenges you can’t handle on your own.
  • You make choices based on instant gratification. This could be something like skipping class if you’re feeling tired, or going out with friends instead of studying. If you make too many decisions based on what you want to do right now, you’ll undermine your long-term college experience.
  • You’re feeling fear, anxiety, depression or anger most of the time. If this is the case, seek out the student counseling office or the mental health department of health services right away.
  • You’re unfairly comparing yourself to students who are better than you. College doesn’t have to be about competing to be the best. It can be about setting goals for yourself in order to reach that degree and make the best plans for the future.

2. Learn to manage your time. Dr. Stephen Jones, on his blog Education Topics, noted in his December 6, 2011, article “10 Tips for Parents of Struggling Freshman,” “The first year in college is difficult for many freshmen. They are making a lot of adjustments on their own for the first time in their lives. There are breaks in between classes that can easily become social time.”

Even college students who have already gone through freshman year transitions may struggle to manage time wisely. Jones recommended getting a daily planner (electronic or the old-fashioned paper version) to help better organize your life, and schedule in extra study time.

3. Find your motivation. It’s easy to fall behind in classes if you’re not motivated to keep studying. Think about why you’re taking the course and set a specific goal for yourself. It can be the grade on a specific paper, or the number of pages of text you read per night. Any manageable, small goal will help make staying motivated easier.

If you really need help finding your motivation, talk to your parents or friends about providing an external motivator, such as planning a pizza night with friends if you accomplish set goals. But don’t rely too much on external motivation. “It’s common to need encouragement and motivation from others, but when you need that to be successful, that’s when it becomes a problem,” wrote contributor Brenda to College-Pages. “Struggling students who have difficulty sustaining motivation can feel depressed and lost.”

4. Look for help. As Lorraine Savage wrote in her iCitations blog post for Questia, “Falling behind in classes? How to ask your teacher for a study guide, tutor or mentor” on August 23, 2013, asking for help does not mean you’re dumb. “Don’t think that your difficulty in grasping a concept is some weakness on your part,” she wrote. “[T]here’s nothing wrong with approaching a teacher and saying you need some extra help.”

5. Find out if there is additional financial help available. It could be that you’re not facing an academic challenge, but a financial one. “After paying for tuition, rent, gas, books, computers, phones and other expenses, there’s often not much left over,” wrote Debbie Kelley for Colorado Springs, CO paper The Gazette in “UCCS Opens Food Pantry to Assist Struggling Students,” published March 24, 2014.

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs opened a student-run food pantry to help students make ends meet without going hungry. Check to see if there’s an option like that at your university, or seek out Student Life or Financial Aid staffers who may be able to help you find additional ways to stretch your funds.

For more information on education, visit Questia, and check out additional advice on overcoming academic challenges at the Questia blog, iCitations.

What tips do you have for fellow students who are struggling in college? Tell us in the comments. 

1 reply
  1. Tiffany Kirst says:

    Wow! What a great way of explaining the raw emotions felt by a struggling college student! It’s so refreshing to hear that “you’re not alone”, because we often think that of ourselves, don’t we? It’s difficult to get through each day, especially if we can’t grasp the concept that we need to figure all of these tasks out essentially by ourselves. Knowing that there are people out there designed to help students succeed is so helpful. I know my mental state is improving just thinking about it. Thanks for your much needed encouragement!


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